Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

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Last Night at the Circle Cinema: A Review

Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily FranklinOlivia, Bertucci and Codman have been a solid trio throughout high school. Best friends who never had much time for other people, the three are now facing the end of high school and the moment when their lives will diverge.

In a last attempt to keep their bonds strong, Bertucci plans one last escapade the night before graduation. The three will spend the night in the recently boarded up Circle Cinema.

The decrepit movie theater was site to many late night movies and bonding. It will also be their Olivia, Bertucci and Codman’s last chance to talk honestly with each other about what comes next. And everything that threatened to pull them apart over the last year in Last Night at the Circle Cinema (2015) by Emily Franklin.

**Last Night at the Circle Cinema is the kind of book that is impossible to talk about without spoilers so if you don’t like that sort of thing, avert your eyes.**

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Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls: A Review

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn WeingartenJune and Delia used to be friends. Best friends. Even when it felt like their home lives were falling apart, June knew she could count on Delia. She knew their secrets tied them together.

That was a while ago. Over a year. Before June started dating Ryan. Before Delia met Ryan and things got . . . weird.

June hasn’t spoken to Delia since.

Now Delia is dead. Burned to death in her step-father’s shed, they say. Suicide, they say.

June doesn’t believe it.

Certain that Delia was murdered, June sets out to uncover the truth. Instead of easy answers, she finds a complicated  tangle of secrets and lies that will change everything she thought she knew about her best friend in Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls (2015) by Lynn Weingarten.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is Weingarten’s fourth novel. It is a stand-alone title.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a complicated novel. Weingarten employs varied narrative techniques and format choices throughout to create prose with as many twists as the plot.

Like June herself, readers never know exactly what to expect in this book. The plot is uneasy and often difficult as June unearths raw moments from her past with Delia. This story is partly the postmortem of a friendship with flashbacks and June’s memories detailing how the girls’ friendship began and, later, how it unraveled.

The rest of the novel focuses more closely on June’s investigation of Delia’s death and her increasing questions about what really happened. June is never certain who to trust, lending a sense of uncertainty and unease to a novel where allegiances–and even facts–are constantly shifting.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls is a solid thriller with moments of genuine suspense, numerous shocks, and a powerful ending that demands to be discussed at length. A must-read for fans of thrillers in general and readers who like a novel that keeps them guessing.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Graces by Laure Eve, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

The After Girls: A Review

The After Girls by Leah KonenElla, Astrid and Sydney thought they would have the perfect summer between high school and college. Until Astrid kills herself in the isolated cabin they’ve used as a hideaway for years.

In the wake of Astrid’s suicide, Ella and Sydney are left with grief, confusion and questions. How could Astrid do this to herself? How could she leave them behind? How could Ella and Sydney have missed the warning signs?

While Ella is desperate to find answers, some kind of suicide note or explanation, Sydney does everything she can to try to numb herself. Together, Ella and Sydney will follow the pieces of Astrid’s life–and even a chilling message from Astrid herself–to find out the truth about Astrid’s suicide and whether she might be trying to reach them from the afterlife in The After Girls (2013) by Leah Konen.

The After Girls is Konen’s first novel.

The After Girls is a smart, thoughtful novel with an unflinching focus on grieving. Konen’s treatment of both characters is balanced and honest as Ella and Sydney work through their grief in different ways.

With elements of mystery, suspense and even romance for Ella, The After Girls is a subtle story with evocative landscapes and compelling characters. With books like I Was Here and All the Bright Places getting so much buzz, this back list title is well worth reading

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca A. Serle

*A review copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2013*

All the Bright Places: A Review

All the Bright Places by Jennifer NivenTheodore Finch has been contemplating death and how he might end his own life for years. But whenever he starts to think really hard about killing himself something good, even a small good thing, makes him reconsider. It’s hard to stay present and Awake, but once he surfaces Finch is always willing to try.

Violet Markey is counting the days until graduation when she can leave her small Indiana town and the sharp pain of her sister’s sudden death behind.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s easy for everyone to believe that Violet saved Finch. But that isn’t the truth.

After, when they pair up for a school project to explore the wonders of their state, both Finch and Violet realize they might have found exactly who they need in each other. But while Violet begins to embrace life again, Finch finds himself struggling to stay Awake and in the moment in All the Bright Places (2015) by Jennifer Niven.

All the Bright Places is Niven’s first novel written for young adults. It was also optioned for a movie before its official release date.

All the Bright Places is very similar to The Fault in Our Stars both thematically and stylistically. It is also poised to be a defining book of 2015 (and possibly also of whatever year the movie adaptation is released if it moves beyond developmental stages) with its appeal and buzz not to mention critical acclaim in the form of several starred reviews.

It is also worth noting that this book is beautifully packaged with a lot of great details ranging from the cover colors to the post it note motif and even a special message on the spine of the physical book.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with such an anticipated title, Niven’s generally strong writing only serves to underscore the numerous flaws within this incredibly frustrating novel.

Spoilers ahead as we delve into deeper discussion . . .

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Thirteen Reasons Why: A Banned Book Review

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay AsherHannah Baker killed herself two weeks ago. No one knows exactly why, least of all Clay Jensen.

Clay had a crush on Hannah and watcher her from afar. He even saw her at a party once. Before.

But now, two weeks after her suicide, Clay comes home to find a box with his name on it. Inside the box are thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah before she killed herself. Each tape details one of the reasons that Hannah decided to take her own life.

Clay is one of them in Thirteen Reasons Why (2007) by Jay Asher.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a haunting story told in Clay and Hannah’s alternating narrations as Clay deals with his guilt and grief over losing Hannah with flashbacks (from the tapes) of Hannah detailing the moments that led to her suicide.

This book was one of the ten most challenged books in 2012. The justification for the challenge was: “Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.”

Starting this story with the knowledge that Hannah is already gone does little to diminish the emotional resonance of this story. Asher’s writing is evocative and taut as he brings Clay and Hannah painfully to life.

This is an honest story and one that isn’t always the easiest to read. Clay and Hannah both make mistakes as do many of the other people readers meet over the course of Hannah’s story. Ultimately it is these flaws that make the story so poignantly real.

Thirteen Reasons Why is an ideal book for readers who aren’t afraid to shed a few tears. This story is sure to linger with readers long after the story ends.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Secret Side of Empty by Maria J. Andreu, The After Girls by Leah Konen, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers, The List by Siobhan Vivian

And We Stay: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

And We Stay by Jenny HubbardNo one expected senior Paul Wagoner would walk into his high school with a gun. No one thinks he planned to kill himself and never walk out. Not even his girlfriend, Emily Beam, expected to be threatened by Paul as he confronted her in their high school library.

But all of those things did happen.

Paul is gone and with him pieces of Emily are gone too. Even before his suicide, Emily knew she would never be the same. She just didn’t know it would hurt this much.

Vacillating between guilt and anger, Emily Beam is sent to an all girls boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Surrounded by history from Emily Dickinson’s life, Emily delves into poetry and her new life hoping to escape.

She has help along the way from her habitual liar roommate K. T. and a girl who likes to steal almost as much as she likes to paint. But it is only Emily herself who can forgive and leave her past behind in And We Stay (2014) by Jenny Hubbard.

And We Stay is Hubbard’s second novel. It was also a Printz honor title in 2015. The story is set in 1995 for reasons that are never entirely clear. Despite the obvious setting (all of Emily’s poems are dated) the novel is largely timeless.

And We Stay is a very short, very fast read. In spite of that, Hubbard’s prose is imbued with substance as this slim novel tackles weighty topics ranging from feminism to processing loss and grief.

Written in the third person, present tense this story is often very distancing. Emily Beam is at a remove from readers, however it’s easy to think she prefers it that way. Flashbacks to Emily’s relationship with Paul, the shooting, and other key moments are interspersed throughout the main narrative of Emily’s first two months at the boarding school.

Each chapter ends with one of Emily’s poems which also further develop the story. Emily Dickinson also features heavily as a character of sorts–her poems are used throughout the story and a somewhat improbable plot thread at the end of the novel revolves around Dickinson’s family home in Amherst.

It’s rare to find books that focus so heavily and so well on girls. And We Stay is one of those books. Emily Beam is a prickly, sad, and surprisingly real heroine. Her observations throughout the story are caustic and insightful in a way heroines rarely get to be in most novels. Hubbard’s portrayal of Emily’s relationships with her new friends and her French teacher are beautifully handled and shockingly real.

Although the pacing was slow and a little strange (with a jarring plot thread late in the story), somehow it all works. The plot develops organically and the included poetry feels seamless. And We Stay is a lovely, thoughtful blend of poetry, feminism and fiction about a girl finding her voice.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales,  Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez, The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel, Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, Some Things That Stay by Sarah Willis